Not long after the winds dissipated and the waters receded to reveal the scope of damage caused by Hurricane Ian, Sandy Stilwell-Youngquist started receiving assumptions from her friends. They thought perhaps she would sell her Captiva Island properties and retire, letting someone else deal with the headaches of insurance adjustors, construction contractors and all the rebuilding efforts.
“No, I’m not going to,” Stillwell-Youngquist said she tells her friends. “I’m going to see this thing through.”
Stillwell-Youngquist paid $1.8 million in 1999 for the Key Lime Bistro, five cottages and an office building/lodging unit at 11509 Andy Rosse Lane. Those became the centerpiece for what’s known as the Captiva Island Inn. She broadened the scope of her business, paying $2.8 million in May 2002 for the property directly across the street with three more cottages. Since then, she has added adjacent properties, buying most of the eastern end of Andy Rosse Lane. R.C. Otter’s, Sunshine Seafood Cafe and Wine Bar, Latte Da ice cream shop and Cantina Captiva are the restaurants on her roster.
She began her real estate journey only because she wanted to own a place where she would enjoy vacationing.
“I’m kind of stubborn in that way,” Stilwell-Youngquist said. “I know it took me 23 years to build. And it took maybe eight to 10 hours to – it didn’t go away totally, but it sure changed the way it looks today. I’m going to stick through it and see it to where it looks beautiful again like it used to.”
She had flood insurance on all her properties and paid $350,000 yearly. She said some of those cottages likely would have to be razed because of the damage they incurred and the federal 50% rule, which requires damaged buildings be rebuilt to meet current storm building codes if the repair costs exceed 50% of the property’s value.
She said about eight of the 12 cottages might be coming down, but she’s taking steps to ensure the Key Lime Bistro carries onward without having to be torn down and rebuilt.
“What I would really like to do is restore the Key Lime Bistro,” she said. “I really do believe that I fit well within the criteria. I’ll have to rerun the electrical. The plumbing is all intact. It’s just electrical and roof, then put in all the new kitchen equipment. I could do that on my own and handle that with subcontractors. That would be my thought.”
Stilwell-Youngquist could be a good case study of what will happen to Fort Myers Beach hoteliers that experienced heavy damage. That’s because of the sticker shock. She was expecting to pay $250 per square foot of construction, but she’s being told to think more like $400 per square foot.
That means a 5,000-square-foot building costing $1.25 million would cost $2 million instead.
Stilwell-Younquist is anticipating spending $7 million to $8 million to rebuild, but she’s also preparing if the price tag soars to $10 million.
“Whoa,” she said. “I’m not building the Ritz-Carlton here. I’m not building a five-star hotel.”
She said that the white and multi-colored picket fences that make Captiva historic must stay, which is why she is choosing to oversee the reconstruction herself.
“I couldn’t do that,” she said of giving up. “It’s the charm of Captiva. I really want the village to come back. I just want to see it back together again.”
Stilwell Management LLC has about 100 year-round employees. With very little income now, the company has cut back to about 25. Most of them will help with rebuilding, but she has diverted staff to her newest Key Lime Bistro in Boca Grande. It’s at 433 Fourth Street W., in the former Loose Caboose Restaurant.
“I know what Captiva can go back to be,” Stilwell-Youngquist said. “I know the trees look awful now. We’ve lost so very much. But we’re very resilient out here on Captiva. And it will be back. I’d say two years from now, it will be totally different from what you see today.”